Low-Cost Airline Fees That Might Be Worth Paying

01 of 05

Airline Fees Worth Paying?

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Are there fees at low-cost airlines that might be worth paying?

Low-cost airlines operate on a business model that is far different from other commercial carriers. As the name suggests, low-cost airlines usually offer base fares that are far lower than what you'll find elsewhere.

But the final costs differ greatly from those low base fares because low-cost airlines charge a battery of fees for services that are typically included in traditional fares.

Those added costs include:

  • check-in fees
  • baggage fees
  • priority boarding
  • surcharges for using credit cards
  • refreshment and meal purchases
  • boarding pass printing
  • schedule changes
  • schedule texted to your phone
  • added legroom
  • making baggage arrangements at the airport

You can make low-cost airline mistakes if you pay too many of these fees. The point is that you must choose the services you want prior to purchase, and then price them to see if that low-cost airline ticket really saves you money.

It has become clear that some of these fees are more beneficial than others. Much depends upon the length of the flight and the traveler's financial resources.

With that disclaimer in mind, let's look at four low-cost airline fees that just might be worth paying.

02 of 05

Priority Boarding

Some airlines will charge for priority boarding.
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Is it really that big a deal to be the first passenger on the plane? On a low-cost airline flight, it might be quite important.

Some airlines operate without assigned seats (unless you reserve one at added cost). So you'll enter the cabin and choose the best remaining seat. If you're flying from New York to San Diego, it is well worth spending an extra  $10-$20 to get the seat you want.

Another advantage is getting space in the overhead bin for your carry-on luggage. The scramble to secure that space has led to fistfights on some flights. No one wants to be told their bag must be checked at an added cost.

03 of 05

Added Legroom

You'll pay a premium for leg room on low-cost airlines.
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Another possible premium service you should consider is added legroom. The industry standard is 30-33 inches. On a long flight, that could result in discomfort, especially for taller passengers.

Allegiant offers a leg room upgrade on a flight from Omaha to Oakland for $19 each way. That's a 3.5-hour flight. You'll need to determine if the added room warrants the fee.

Spirit advertises 10" of additional legroom for $25, but most airlines won't give you measurements.

CheapFlights.com has a legroom guide for airlines that can be helpful as you consider the option. If the legroom enhancement sends you to an exit row, you can be confident the comfort upgrade will be worthwhile.

04 of 05

Baggage Fees

Baggage fees come at a variety of levels.
(c)Mark D. Kahler

No one likes baggage fees, and it's important to avoid them with one-bag carry-on strategies whenever possible.

But on many low-cost carriers, there is no avoiding a fee. On some of these airlines, the carry-on fee is actually higher than what you'll pay for checking bags into the cargo hold.

There are also fee structures in which you'll pay more by making your selections at the airport -- sometimes significantly more. So it is usually smart to book baggage fees with your reservation at the lowest price possible.

Thankfully, most airlines have improved their warnings about such pesky costs. They'll display in the reservation process that airport baggage checks will be $50-$100 more. It's one of the few times paying an airline in advance is a good practice.

Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05

Credit Card Surcharges

Low-cost airlines sometimes charge a premium for paying by credit card.
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Ryanair and easyJet impose surcharges of about 2 percent for using a major credit card to pay for your flights. They won't charge for debits from your bank account or from a PayPal account. Both carriers promote pre-paid debit cards. You put a certain amount of money on the card and then refresh it if it gets low. It's a way for the airlines to lock in some of your money. 

Allegiant charges about 3 percent for using a credit card. Spirit does not make that charge, but it offers an airline-branded credit card with the offer of a $100 statement credit for charging at least $500 in the first 90 days. Those offers also are common on traditional carriers.

Pre-paid cards don't detract from your credit score, but they don't build good credit with the rating agencies. But I am a bit leery about keeping track of yet another account, and I also like the idea that if something goes terribly wrong, there is a familiar procedure for disputing the charge through my credit card company, which is independent from the airline. 

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